The cold December rain continues to fall in my beloved Appalachian Mountains. At my core I am as much a part of the forest as the birds that continue to chirp in the lull between downpours. As I tread softly across the wet leaf litter the greenish gray colored vegetation catches my eye. The lichens are thick in this part of the forest. They have completely coated the fallen log and are even out competing the moss. I paused for a moment and took a long deep breath. The air is clean and invigorating and the lichens let me know that I could breath in confidence in this spot.
Lichens are very sensitive to chemical pollution. So much so that the U.S.D.A. and the EPA use them as bioindicators of the air quality. It’s not really as simple as a lot of lichens meaning clean air they’ve got it down to a science. Lichenology is the study of lichens but what are they? By the time most of us take a real science class in school lichens are one of those classic examples of symbiosis. Two different species living as one. Its an algea and a fungus. But there’s a whole variety of different types of lichens. Not only do environmental scientists look at the volume of lichens but they also look at the variety because different types of lichens are sensitive to different types of pollution. By looking at charts and counting the numbers of types they can get a pretty accurate gauge of the types of toxins are in the air and therefore what’s in the rain, soil and water.
Because it’s the Christmas season, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that Santa’s sleigh runs on lichen. In the Winter months reindeer turn to reindeer moss for food. Come to think of it, tonight’s feature image does look as if a bite has been taken out of the lichens. And with the special night quickly approaching perhaps an advanced scout is out checking up folks in case of a last minute adjustment to the naughty and nice lists.
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